The Harlem Renaissance was a defining moment in American history. It marked the first social recognition of the intellectual talents of African Americans. While many Language Arts curriculums focus on the writers of the era, such as Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison, little mention has been made of the musicians. It is within this unit, using primary and secondary sources, that students will explore the life and contributions of one man- Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. Duke Ellington is largely held as one of the greatest contributors to the formation of American Jazz music, as well as being an ambassador for African American high culture during a time when African Americans were not typically regarded with respect for their cultural contributions.
“Duke Ellington: American Legend” aligns with Scholastic’s READ 180 rBook Workshop program unit entitled “The Streets of Harlem.” The unit is designed to augment activities with the READ 180 program for middle school students, but adaptation to serve middle school language arts and music classrooms is both plausible and recommended. The unit’s primary focus is on the acquisition and development of the reading skill “inference” and the awareness of “literary elements.” The unit itself correlates with modern American History curriculum in that it discusses the development of African American high culture and serves as a brief supplement to the discussion of progression toward the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s.